“Is Australia ready for war?” is the title of a four-part series being run by Fairfax. The question, and the corporate media attention to the militarisation of the region, are designed to help people accept that war with China is inevitable.
Until recently, government spokespeople and the media were a little coy. Now, however, the gloves are off and China is being openly spoken of as the enemy.
A meeting of the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue (Quad) in Melbourne on February 11 between Australia, India, Japan and the United States is the latest propaganda assault in this vigorous anti-China campaign.
The federal government was especially pleased that US Secretary of State Antony Blinken attended: it confirmed the US and its allies are happy to maintain a simultaneous war-footing in both Asia and Europe. As Blinken was en route, US Democrats and Republicans were setting up a group to further promote the anti-Chinese AUKUS pact.
With the imagined China threat back in the news, the media has a lot to say about Australia’s military budget, the need to lift spending and commitments to neighbouring states.
Australia now spends 2.2% of GDP on its armed forces. China, a significant military power, spends just 1.7% of its GDP. The US commits a massive 3.7% of its GDP to its military.
Recent figures on military spending by country show China allocates around $240 billion a year. By contrast, the US spends just under $1 trillion. This is equal to 37% of total global military spending and is more than the combined spending of China, India, Russia, Saudi Arabia, France, Germany, Britain, Japan, South Korea and Brazil.
The Coalition government intends to keep pouring resources into the military because, for it, Australia must continue to signal the US has no greater ally and that it is acting in the national interest.
What is meant by “national interest” needs to be interrogated. How is it in the national interest for hundreds of Australian Defence Force personnel to be sent to fight and die in US-sponsored wars in Iraq and Afghanistan?
How has it been in the national interest to spend billions of dollars on the military to “defend” us from non-existent threats?
How is it in the national interest to promote an arms industry while pretending it is an industry policy? This was the logic behind the plan to inject billions of dollars into industries engaged with arms manufacturing, with the view of making Australia one of the top 10 arms exporters in the world.
Not content with becoming an arms dealer, Australia has also committed public funds to increase military capacity. The 2016 Defence White Paper announced a rise in the military budget of 80% over 10 years. Such extravagance needed to be justified, and the White Paper fell back into well-worn China threat territory. The spending was described as being needed to counter Chinese “assertiveness”.
Even this spending and posturing is not enough to satisfy some. Rory Medcalf, who heads the National Security College at the Australian National University, has been fulsome in his praise of the Quad meeting, although he has expressed concern that should war break out in Ukraine, the US might not be quite as focused on China as he believes it should be.
Medcalf is among a group, influential with government, which never tires in promoting the need for the US alliance at any cost. He argues that Australia’s military spending of between 3–4% of GDP can be easily justified.
Besides promoting an arms race in the region, such spending would would have a devastating impact on health and education spending.
The manufacture of a “China threat” is being pushed by defence minister Peter Dutton who waxes lyrical about the Quad in “standing up” to China and countering what is alleged, but never proven, to be a direct threat to the region and Australia.
In the mad rush to militarisation and war, the truth is jettisoned. Where is the history of Chinese expansionism and incursion? If China is a threat, where is its military and where is its fleet? China’s army and navy are in the country, or on its borders. The same cannot be said of the US imperialism, which has left a trail of destruction over the last 100 years.
US President Joe Biden, then acting as Barack Obama’s vice-president, on a mission to sell Obama’s infamous “Pivot to Asia” policy, bluntly pointed out during a visit to Australia in 2016 that nothing would stop the US maintaining economic and military dominance in the region.
“Anyone who questions America’s dedication and staying power in the Asia Pacific is not paying attention,” he said. “We’ve committed to put over 60 per cent of our fleet and our most advanced military capabilities in the Pacific by 2020 … As the president [Obama] said, we are all in. We are not going anywhere.”
Biden’s speech targeted China, but it also served to remind nations in the region about who calls the shots. In the same speech, he declared: “If I had to bet on which country is going to lead economically in the 21st century … I’d bet on the United States. But I’d put it another way: It’s never a good bet to bet against the United States.”
Biden’s message as President remains the same: “America is back." Australia’s military spending, its anti-China, pro-war stance, is proof that, regardless of economic cost, governments will not be betting against the US any time soon.